Category Archives: nuclear

Invisible Colors. The Arts of the Atomic Age

Invisible Colors. The Arts of the Atomic Age, by Gabrielle Decamous, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Languages and Cultures at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan.

On amazon USA and UK.

Publisher MIT Press describes the book: The effects of radiation are invisible, but art can make it and its effects visible. Artwork created in response to the events of the nuclear era allow us to see them in a different way. In Invisible Colors, Gabrielle Decamous explores the atomic age from the perspective of the arts, investigating atomic-related art inspired by the work of Marie Curie, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the disaster at Fukushima, and other episodes in nuclear history.
[…]
Emphasizing art by artists who were present at these nuclear events—the “global Hibakusha”—rather than those reacting at a distance, Decamous puts Eastern and Western art in dialogue, analyzing the aesthetics and the ethics of nuclear representation.


Shiga Lieko, Child’s Play, 2012


Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Your manias become science) , 1981


Homma Takashi, Mushrooms from the Forest, 2011

Invisible Colors explores how artists make palpable the imperceptible, the intangible, the unthinkable. The catastrophic accidents, the lethal weapons, the impoverishment of ecosystems, but also the invisible ‘everyday’ radioactivity.

Gabrielle Decamous’ book is not the first publication about art and the nuclear but it expands the observation field to artworks and perspectives that the West has often neglected. The scope of her investigation is vast in terms of the geography, time frame and creative disciplines examined.

In terms of geography, the analysis is looking both East and West. With Chernobyl, Fukushima, Nagasaki and Hiroshima of course. With the Three Mile Island accident and the nuclear tests in the Pacific and in Nevada. But the author also looks at regions across the world that have been affected by the nuclear and yet remain under the radar. The Namibian communities living around the Rössing open pit mine, for example, don’t get much attention nor compensation for the high cost their bodies and environment pay to ensure that the West has access to the dangerous mineral resource. Or the people living in the South Pacific islands where the French carried out nuclear tests they insisted were “clean” in the 1960s and 1970s. That’s when you realize how much the colonial legacy endures into our complex globalized world.


Critical Art Ensemble, Radiation Burn, 2010


Kaneto Shindo, Lucky Dragon No. 5, 1959


Jean Schwartz, The Radium Dance, part of the W.C Whitney production Piff!, Paff!, Pouf! in 1904

The chronology Decamous considers is equally comprehensive. It brings in works from the time of Marie Curie’s discovery of radium up until the aftermath of Fukushima. I was particularly fascinated by the work of Movimento Nucleare, an artistic movement founded in Milan in 1951 with the objective to create works that respond to the atomic age, often with a clear political, antinuclear message. The broad historical perspective is a particularly precious one because, as the author explains, the West tends to look mostly towards the future at the expense of a deep reflection around past mistakes.

I associated representation of the atomic age with visual arts. Fortunately, Decamous isn’t as parochial as i am. Her book thus explores how other art forms such as the performing arts and music (with Iron Maiden, Sun Ra, even The Stranglers!) are keeping the discussion around the atomic age alive. Literature seems to have been particularly responsive to the discovery of radium, going from adventure novels haunted by the fear of evil men stealing radium to more doomsday narratives that reflect a growing awareness of radium’s harmful effects. There was scifi novels, A-bomb books but also poetry and mangas, most notably Barefoot Gen, a series loosely based on Nakazawa Keiji’s own experiences as a Hiroshima survivor. Decamous even uncovered the existence of a cookbook! In 1965 and 1970, two members of the Women Strike for Peace Movement did indeed publish Peace de Resistance, a cookbook that included simple recipes for those days when WSP’s efforts were needed to protest against the testing of nuclear weapons.

As Invisible Colors makes clear, representing the nuclear is not an easy task. First, the subject itself is delicate. It evades our standard notions of materiality and our very limited and very human conception of time. It makes it ethically difficult to represent terrible loss and suffering, to draw any aesthetic pleasure from it.


Michael Light, 045 STOKES 19 kilotons Nevada 1957. From 100 Suns : 1945-1962

The most powerful obstacle to a straightforward and honest nuclear representation, however, is the industry’s dark power. Countries like the USA and France, for example, never shied away from censorship and cover-ups to ensure that nuclear activities remained shrouded in secrecy. In France, the media were pressured so that the public didn’t have to face any unpleasant questioning of what was happening in mines in Madagascar, in Gabon and in France. The U.S. documented their activities in a way that would render the atomic age fabulously visual. The military-produced images of the US tests in the Pacific are so spectacularly appealing that they eclipse the human and animal victims and any longlasting damage to the landscape.

The author also reveals how the nuclear industry uses art to support their agenda, reaching out to artists and sponsoring comic books and exhibitions. Just like car manufacturers and (fossil fuel) energy giants are doing today to greenwash their industry.

As Invisible Colors brilliantly argues, art and humanities must keep the nuclear memory radioactive and alive. Because recording and remembering are also political acts.

Carole Langer, Radium City, 1987


Igor Kostin, Robots couldn’t handle the intense radiation at Chernobyl so the nuclear cleanup job fell to the “liquidators” — a corps of soldiers, firefighters, miners, and volunteers. Part of the series Chernobyl – The Aftermath, 1986. Photo


Maruki Iri and Maruki Toshi, Nanking Massacre, 1975. Part of the Hiroshima Panels


Keiji Nakazawa, Barefoot Gen, 1973-1985


Yosuke Yamahata, A woman and her child appear in a state of shock the day after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, 1945


Shomei Tomatsu, Beer Bottle After the Atomic Bomb Explosion, 1961


Chris Burden, The Atomic Alphabet, 1980


Shiga Lieko, Mother’s Gentle Hands, 2009


Tomoko Yoneda, Chrysanthemums from the series Cumulus, 2011


Ikeda Ai, Sievertian Human – Wisdom, Impression, Sentiment, 2015


Jürgen Nefzger, Sellafield, England, 2005. From the series Fluffy Clouds


Jürgen Nefzger, Kalkar, Deutschland, 2005. From the series Fluffy Clouds

Critical Art Ensemble, Radiation Burn, 2010

Rebecca Zlotowski, Grand Central, 2013 (trailer)


Robert Del Tredici, The Richest Uranium Mine on Earth, 1986

Related book: The Nuclear Culture Source Book.
And stories: Perpetual Uncertainty. Inhabiting the atomic age, Sonic Radiations. A nuclear-themed playlist, After The Flash. Photography from the Atomic Archive, Gamma Sense. Open, fast and free gamma radiation monitoring for citizens, Anecdotal radiations, the stories surrounding nuclear armament and testing programs, Inheritance, a precious heirloom made of gold and radioactive stones, etc.

Pazugoo, the 3D printed evil spirits of nuclear waste storage


Speculative Demonology as Deep Geological Repository Marking Strategy, 2016. 3D-additive design and printing workshop with invited guests, Bildmuseet, Umea, Sweden, 8th-10th November 2016

Part of Nuclear Culture, a curatorial project that brings together visual artists and researchers in humanities to reflect on issues related to the nuclear, looks at how we can communicate the presence of a radioactive waste disposal site across hundreds or even thousands of generations.

Some of the artists involved in this complex inquiry have imagined various strategies to communicate the presence of radioactive material around us over a period of time that extend beyond human temporality. Thomson & Craighead, for example, created Temporary Index, a totem that acts as a counter for representing the decay rate of nuclear waste products and as a signpost, mapping the distance between its location and the nearest radioactive waste facility. Meanwhile, Erich Berger and Mari Keto‘s INHERITANCE jewellery set brings the issue of the slow decay of radioactive material into a domestic setting.


Andy Weir, Pazu-goo: 3D Printed Deep Geological Repository Marker for a Future Posthuman Palaeoarcheologist (c.700 BC—4.6 x 109 AD). Image courtesy the artist.

Artist, researcher and writer Andy Weir has chosen a very different avenue.

His Pazugoo project consists of a constellation of collectively modified Pazuzu, the Assyro-Babylonian demon of epidemic and dust. The figurines, which brandish an uranium glow-stick, are created during collaborative workshops using digital 3D object files of scanned museum figures which are edited and 3D printed. The work envisions that the Nylon 12 mini statues will then be encased in clay tablets and flushed into local water supplies, perhaps later discovered as artefacts, or left to slowly degrade and form new molecular configurations through ingestion and drift. Once they have been thrown away, the figurines will live the enduring life of plastic. They will end up in the waste, will crumble into microplastics, will join trillions of other plastic particles into the ocean where they might find their way into the bodies of marine organisms. Which we might eventually consume. If ever humans still inhabit the earth when that might happen.

As Weir wrote in the essay Deep Decay – Into Diachronic Polychromatic Material Fictions, the Pazugoo figures, once they have been scattered into the landscape, become an “anti-marker”:

The anti-marker focuses on leakage, non-containment and the speculative potential of future transformations of humans in dynamic relation and alliance with other entities across scales. This is practised not as metaphor or sign, but through its own performative materiality, drifting from dump to sea, navigating from local sites towards a universal ungrounding current of deep time.

By anchoring the (anti)marker in mythology, Weir points to future radioactive menaces that are as intangible, as powerful and as eluding as the dust and viruses brought about by Pazuzu.

As markers of deep geological repositories, the figurines also seem to echo the superstitions and irrational beliefs that accompany our understanding of the underground world.

Pazugoo is currently part of the exhibition Nuclear Culture presents: Perpetual Uncertainty at Z33 in Hasselt, Belgium. I caught up with the artist and asked him to tell us more about Pazugoo:


Speculative Demonology as Deep Geological Repository Marking Strategy, 2016. 3D-additive design and printing workshop with invited guests, Bildmuseet, Umea, Sweden, 8th-10th November 2016

Hi Andy! Why do you think that tiny figurines of Assyrian-Babylonian demons have the power to speak to future generations? Rather than a more abstract sign or the usual symbols of dangers we use nowadays?

I’m very curious about the way you propose to communicate the presence of radioactive storage sites. Instead of designing a monumental marker, you would lose the figurines in the landscape. How would people in the future find them and make the connection with danger?

My initial interest in the deep geological repository sites was the immense timescales at stake, the way for example that imagination of the 4.46 billion year half life of Uranium-238 became part of a design process.

With the Pazugoo project, then, I was interested to ask what it might mean to consider artwork over these timescales. The buried objects would have a future life of decay, mutation and entanglements with the surrounding environmental materials, over hundreds, thousands, millions of years, in a way very different to the usual timescale of an exhibition.

Pazugoo is based on mutative iterations of Pazuzu, demon of dust and contagion, and in this case is invoked as a navigator through deep time.

The work, in this sense, parasites on the temporal context of nuclear storage. Rather than proposing a direct form of communication with future generations, it suggests more of a material thought experiment, opening to a future out of my control, and infecting thought now.

On the other hand, the models do also communicate through their relation to an ‘index-Pazugoo’, which I am currently developing for the next stage of the exhibition in Malmo. As part of the museum collection, this will act as a marker for the buried objects. I’m interested in how this uses the museum exhibition as a kind of refractive indexing (the model is there as reference to the distributed Pazugoos), focal point for the work’s loosening into the surrounding environment.


Speculative Demonology as Deep Geological Repository Marking Strategy, 2016. 3D-additive design and printing workshop with invited guests, Bildmuseet, Umea, Sweden, 8th-10th November 2016


Speculative Demonology as Deep Geological Repository Marking Strategy, 2016. 3D-additive design and printing workshop with invited guests, Bildmuseet, Umea, Sweden, 8th-10th November 2016


Speculative Demonology as Deep Geological Repository Marking Strategy, 2016. 3D-additive design and printing workshop with invited guests, Bildmuseet, Umea, Sweden, 8th-10th November 2016

When your work was exhibited at Bildmuseet in Umea, Sweden, you organised workshops in which participants 3D printed glitched Pazu-goo models. Why glitch the figurines? And according to what logic?

Following on from thinking about the models as objects in the earth, I became interested in their qualities less in terms of monumental signification, but more in terms of their material plasticity. I became interested in particular plastics, in other words, as a kind of synthetic-natural hybrid deep time connector between distilled and polymered fossilised remains and contemporary plastiglomerate relics. At the same time, I was thinking about the 3D printer as a technology to distribute and propagate pollution as future relic-making (I consider burying the models a kind of ‘critical pollution’ strategy). The glitch in this case comes simply from retaining the machine-produced plastic effects in excess of the original designs (the oily molten drip made solid, for example) usually removed in the finishing of models. I keep it to draw critical attention to the objects as plastic and as a self-aware reference to its own design process. It emphasises these demons as material plastic objects as well as ritualistic navigational figures. It’s also another way that the aesthetics of the work develops at tangents to my agency, through workshops, through the morphology and through the machine.


Andy Weir, Pazugoo, 2017. Exhibition view at Z33


Andy Weir, Pazugoo, 2017. Exhibition view at Z33

Would the figurines be thrown in the landscape following some specific rituals?

This is an interesting question, as it is a part of the project I haven’t developed yet. Yes, I think they will. I hope there is some scope for collaborative performative action with nuclear agencies here.


Andy Weir, Pazugoo, 2017. Exhibition view at Z33


Domenico Ghirlandaio, Three saints fresco featuring Santa Barbara (detail showing, 1471-72. Photo

The work is currently on show at Z33 in Hasselt and, once again, you modified the little demon but this time the changes were inspired by Saint Barbara. Could you tell us the story behind this religious figure and why you chose to work with it?

I came across Santa Barbara as the patron Saint of miners when I saw a figure displayed in a glass vitrine on my visit to the H.A.D.E.S research laboratory in Mol, Belgium. I later discovered that a similar figure is on display at the entrance to deep geological repositories around the world (and tunnels more generally), touched for protection by miners. It is evidence of a rich shared contemporary mythical culture around the sites, which I see my Pazugoo project in dialogue with. Engineering, myth and futurology are intimately entwined. I liked the image of a mythic underground connection through ritualistically protected tunnels, in a strange balance with Pazugoo’s airborne flight driven by an excess of wings. Barbara also morphs, becoming, for example Yansan, orisha of wind, in Candomble, crusher of the patriarchal will in Ghirlandaio’s 15th Century frescoes, and also apparently the inspiration for Barbiturates.

Do you see Pazu-goo as an ever-evolving figure and project? Are there more steps and manifestations coming up?

Yes very much so, I mentioned above the development of the project for the next stage of Perpetual Uncertainty in Malmo. For this I plan further prototypes for burial and the index marker. Discussions around the work are an important part of it for me and I’ll be taking part in a roundtable discussion as part of the Z33 exhibition soon. I’ve also been making some new diagrams which I’m publishing as part of a collaborative project on ‘the contemporary’. I will work next on the burial ritual, some new sound work, and other production/ distribution/ reformulation strategies (including algorithmically produced objects). Pazugoo continues to drift.


Andy Weir’s figurines are lined up on the mantelpiece, at the back of the photo. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken

Could you tell us also about the short field recordings you made in 4 different deep geological repositories in Europe and the USA? It’s interesting that you didn’t use a visual language back then. How do you get authorization to make the recordings on these sites? And what is it that the listener can perceive exactly, apart from ambient sound?

Yes, this actually returns in the video in the Z33 exhibition, where the sound is composed from the noise of the lift descending into and ascending from the H.A.D.E.S lab. I’m also returning to sound in some current work, from a different perspective, around sonification as futurology. When I first researched and visited the sites, I was interested in the processes of projection, pre-emption and modelling alongside this mass of radioactive stuff that is there as hidden driving agency of the whole project. I approached this through playing with modes of fictionalisation. Recording, archiving and distributing ambient sound was proposed as a ‘sonic fiction’ as angle of approach to deep time. This drew on histories of hyperstition as bringing about reality through fiction, and reflected on the complex temporality of the sites, extending beyond and looping back to human experience. The idea was not so much that the listener would perceive something as catch something! This led to further play with ideas of contagion, and the emergence of the figure of Pazuzu (demon of dust and contagion) as ritual navigator through deep time, which loops back to your first question.

Thanks Andy!

For more background about Andy Weir’s research, check out Deep Decay – Into Diachronic Polychromatic Material Fictions, an essay he wrote for Z33 research blog.

Nuclear Culture presents: Perpetual Uncertainty is at Z33 in Hasselt until 10 December 2017. Entrance is free.

More photos from the exhibition on Z33 flickr set and on mine.

Perpetual Uncertainty is produced by Bildmuseet, Umeå and curated by Ele Carpenter with the support of Z33 and Arts Catalyst London.

Related stories: Perpetual Uncertainty. Inhabiting the atomic age, Sonic Radiations. A nuclear-themed playlist commissioned by Z33 for the exhibition and The Nuclear Culture Source Book.

Perpetual Uncertainty. Inhabiting the atomic age


Susan Schuppli, Trace Evidence (video still), 2016. ©-Polly-Yassin

Nuclear cultures, its promises, dangers and dilemmas, are never far away from media headlines. Sometimes the stories are terrifying (as in Kim and the Donald fighting over the title of “World’s Most Irresponsible Leader”.) Other times, the stories echo events or political choices from the past: radioactive waste that keeps on piling up, toxic legacies of European bomb tests in its African colonies, seaborne radiation from Fukushima nuclear disaster detected on the U.S. West Coast, etc.

Perpetual Uncertainty, an exhibition that opened a few weeks ago at Z33 House for Contemporary Art in Hasselt, reminds us that the nuclear forms the backdrop of our lives, for thousands of generations to come. And even beyond.

The show brings together artists from across Europe, the USA and Japan to investigate experiences of nuclear technology, radiation and the complex relationship between knowledge and deep time.

Perpetual Uncertainty is amazingly informative and stimulating. It helps the public face its anxieties by visualizing every material and immaterial aspect of nuclear technology: the extraction of uranium from the ground, the production of energy, the repercussions of deliberate and accidental explosions and the thorny subject of radioactive waste. Through each of work in the show and each aspect they explore we get to realize how much man-made radiation has transformed our understanding of materiality, knowledge and time.

While the exhibition helps us comprehend what it means to inhabit the atomic, it also leaves space for the impasses and dilemmas that characterizes nuclear culture, a subject which, as we know, still brings far more questions than answers.


Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson, Courageous, 2016


Suzanne Treister, NATO, 2004-2008. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken

Z33 is an ideal venue for a reflection on nuclear culture. First, because Z33 is a research-based institution that explores the critical perspectives that art, design and architecture can add to the understanding of the contemporary challenges and dilemma that society is facing today.

Furthermore, Z33 is located in Hasselt, Belgium. Now you might not automatically associate Belgium with nuclear blasts. Yet, the country is disturbingly linked to the bombs that were dropped on Japan by the U.S.A. back in 1945. At the time, Belgium had made itself incredibly rich by extracting the mineral resources of its colony, the Belgian Congo. One of the mines was located in Shinkolobwe and had been identified as a source of uranium. The quality of the mineral was so high that it was sold to the U.S. and supplied nearly a large part of the uranium used in the bomb dropped over Hiroshima, and much of the related product of plutonium that went into the one that destroyed Nagasaki.

Here’s a few lines about some of the works in the show:


Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway, Kuannersuit, Kvanefjeld, 2016

Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway, Kuannersuit, Kvanefjeld, 2016


Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway, Kuannersuit, Kvanefjeld, 2016. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway, Kuannersuit, Uranium ore from the experimental mine at Kvanefjeld, 2016. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken

The region of Kvanefjeld in southern Greenland is the site of rich rare earth mineral resources and large deposits of uranium. It is also a place of incredible beauty with unspoiled mountains, wooden houses and deep blue fjords.

Foreign mining companies have shown great interest in Kvanefjeld and a recent relaxation of regulations by the government of Greenland has opened up the possibility of creating an open pit mine there.

Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway spent the summer 2016 traveling in South Greenland, meeting residents, politicians, farmers and government officials and uncovering the deep divisions surrounding the mining project.

For some, the mining activity is a means of gaining autonomy from Denmark and keeping younger generations employed.

However, opponents to the project believe that courting foreign investors amounts to swapping one form of dependency for another, with the added risk of environmental degradation, health hazard for the community and their livestock as well as a threat to traditional ways of living from the land and the sea.

According to environmentalist NGOs, the mining project does not ensure that environmental risks are reduced as much as is practically possible. For example, polluting tailings from the refinery are disposed of in Lake Taseq high up in the Narsaq valley river system. From here, there is a high risk that radioactive isotopes and toxic chemicals will enter the groundwater, rivers, fiords and the sea.

The divisions within the local communities illuminate the dilemmas of our times and underline that the quest for energy and ‘progress’ has trade-offs and costs for society and the whole ecosystem.


Yelena Popova, Unnamed (Video still), 2011

Yelena Popova’s Unnamed video essay combines personal and archival footage to relate the story of her hometown in Russia.

Ozyorsk (codenamed City 40) was a “secret” town, built to accommodate the scientists and technicians of a plutonium factory along with their family. The residents were forbidden from leaving the city or making any contact with the outside world. For decades, this city of 100,000 people did not appear on any maps.

The government went to great lengths to ensure that the city’s occupants would be content with their secluded lives: they enjoyed high quality healthcare and education, generous wages, beautiful buildings and parks as well as well-stoked grocery stores.

The film goes on to reveal how, in 1957, the plant was the site of the Kyshtym nuclear disaster, the third-most serious nuclear accident ever recorded. The Soviet managed to keep the explosion secret for years. It’s only in 1976 that scientist Zhores Medvedev made the nature and extent of the disaster known to the world.

As the film develops, the representation of the disaster becomes a metaphor for the failure of science in the twentieth century and the difficulty to both understand a phenomenon (thus comprehending its details) and knowing it (by being aware of its consequences and significance).

Today, the city of Ozyorsk is still home to most of Russia’s nuclear reserves and people living in the area remain exposed to high levels of radiation.


David Mabb, A Provisional Memorial to Nuclear Disarmament. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


David Mabb, A Provisional Memorial to Nuclear Disarmament. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken

A Provisional Memorial to Nuclear Disarmament combines William Morris fabrics with anti-nuclear symbols and slogans. The association is less arbitrary than it might seem. The British Ministry of Defence used the Morris Tudor Rose print (1883) for over thirty years (from the 1960s through to the 1990s) to furnish the officers’ quarters inside its nuclear submarines.

In 2014, David Mabb visited one of those submarines, the decommissioned HMS Courageous which the public can now visit naval dockyard in Plymouth, on the southwest coast of England.

Famous 19th century socialist Morris would have probably been upset to see his designs used inside instruments of war and violence. Mabb reappropriates Morris’ fabrics and pairs them with anti-nuclear protest signs and slogans from different times and countries.

The works are presented on old-school freestanding projection screens. Distributed over two exhibition rooms, they look like an actual protest march.

As Mabb explained the title of the work in The Bulletin:

The work is called A Provisional Memorial to Nuclear Disarmament.” “Provisional” because Britain’s Conservative government has—despite considerable opposition—decided to go ahead with the commissioning of a new generation of Trident nuclear submarines armed with nuclear missiles. And just last week, it confirmed that it is going to proceed with Hinkley Point, the first nuclear power station to be built in Britain for two decades.


Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead, Temporary Index (Dessel), 2017. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken

Will people in a distant future be aware of radioactive sites? Will they understand the language we try to develop now to warn them of the danger? Thomson and Craighead’s Temporary Index is a totem that marks both time and space.

First, the totem acts as a signpost, mapping the distance between Z33 and the Category A Radioactive Waste Facility to be built at Dessel, 44km from the gallery.

Temporary Index also counts down the seconds that remain before the nuclear waste facility is finally deemed safe for humans. The numbers displayed on the screen are overwhelming. Yet, the radioactive substances they point to have a super short life compared to others. They are low-level radioactive waste that will require ‘only’ 300 years until they no longer represent a threat. Other waste disposal facilities have to provide protection for over hundreds of thousands of years, which far outstrips the understanding that most of us have of time.

Temporary Index, Chernobyl Reactor #4, Ukraine, an earlier version of the Temporary Index, was exhibited at the Perpetual Uncertainty show in Umea last year. It marked the distance from the museum to the Chernobyl reactor and visualized the 20,000 years of radioactive decay necessary for the Ukrainian location to be safe, providing us with a glimpse into the vast time scales that define the universe in which we live, but which also represent a future limit of humanity’s temporal sphere of influence.

Isao Hashimoto, 1945-1998 (video still), 2003


Isao Hashimoto, 1945-1998 (video still), 2003

Isao Hashimoto’s video doesn’t need much explanation. His video plots on a map every single known nuclear test and explosion that took place across the world from 1945 until 1998. 2053 in total. It’s shocking to discover how gaily the UK and France have tested their nuclear weapons in distant territories.


Shimpei Takeda, Trace. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Shimpei Takeda, Trace

Shimpei Takeda used photo-sensitive material to physically expose the traces of radiation present in the samples of the contaminated soils he collected throughout the landscape surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

He used no camera for the photographic process. He simply placed the radioactive soils on photo-sensitive films in a light-tight container and left them there for a month. Radioactive substances emit radioactivity to expose gelatin halide on the surface of photographic film.

The number and size of the white dots are proportional to the amount of radiation present in the soil.


Shuji Akagi, Decontamination of My Yard, Fukushima City, 2013


Shuji Akagi, Fukushima City, 2011-2017. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken

Since the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in 2011, Shuji Akagi has been documenting the changes his hometown is going through. Most of his images feature big plastic blue or green bags and tarps. They seem to be everywhere: in the streets, in the fields, in people’s backyard, etc. They are filled with contaminated soil. In his photos you also see how people have resumed their daily life. Only now they have to navigate around the plastic-wrapped manifestation of invisible radiation.

It has been estimated that the decontamination process could take more than 100 years.

More works and images from the exhibition:


Dave Griffiths, Deep Field (UnclearZine), 2016. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Dave Griffiths, Deep Field (UnclearZine), 2016. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Eva and Franco Mattes, The Last Film, 2016. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Ken & Julie Yonetani, Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations, 2013. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Robert Williams and Bryan McGovern Wilson, Cumbrian Alchemy, 2013. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Exhibition view of Perpetual Uncertainty at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Cécile Massart, Laboratoires, 2013. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Cécile Massart, Colours of Danger for Belgian High-Level Radioactive Waste, 2017. Exhibition view at Z33. Photo by Kristof Vrancken


Kota Takeuchi, Take Stone Monuments Twice, 2013-2016


Kota Takeuchi, Take Stone Monuments Twice, 2013-2016. Photo via z33 research


Kota Takeuchi, Take Stone Monuments Twice, 2013-2016. Photo via artsy

Nuclear Culture presents: Perpetual Uncertainty is at Z33 in Hasselt until 10 December 2017. Entrance is free.

More photos from the exhibition on Z33 flickr set and on mine.

Perpetual Uncertainty is produced by Bildmuseet, Umeå and curated by Ele Carpenter with the support of Z33 and Arts Catalyst London.

Related stories: Sonic Radiations. A nuclear-themed playlist commissioned by Z33 for the exhibition and The Nuclear Culture Source Book.

Sonic Radiations. A nuclear-themed playlist

Yesterday i was at Z33 in Hasselt to visit Perpetual Uncertainty, an exhibition that explores “contemporary art in the nuclear anthropocene.”

I had already read The Nuclear Culture Source Book, the publication that accompanies the research and was hoping that the show would be at least as informative and exciting as the book. It certainly delivered and i’ll get back to you with aenthusiastic report as soon as i’m back home. In the meantime, i’d like to share with you the decidedly bizarre but very enjoyable nuclear-themed playlist commissioned by Z33 to Micha Volders and Tim Geelen from Meteor Musik.


William Onyeabor, Atomic Bomb, 1978


Black Moth Super Rainbow, Radiation Society, 2016

Sonic Radiations. In search of a nuclear musicology is online for you to enjoy and scratch your head. The compilation is pretty eclectic. Among the tracks you’ll find:

Energy & The Atom, a 1976 production of the American Nuclear Society that extols the virtues of atomic power and downplays its dangers; Z_Boson by the cult Doppler Effekt; A Child’s introduction to atomic energy and outer space, an educational record from 1960; Atomic Bomb, ‘electronic sounds mixed with Nigerian afro beat grooves’ which William Onyeabor released in 1978; Radiation Society, a recording by Black Moth Super Rainbow that’s slowly being eaten away by radiation; dialogues from the 1983 scifi movie WarGames; excerpts from the original background music of Godzilla (a metaphor for nuclear weapons) composed by Masaru Sato, etc.

Bernard Fevre, Molecule Dance, 1975

Tom Dissevelt & Kid Baltan, The Ray Makers, 1968

A trois dans les WC, Contagion, 1978

Perpetual Uncertainty is at Z33 in Hasselt until 10 December 2017.

The Nuclear Culture Source Book

nuclear-culture-coverThe Nuclear Culture Source Book, edited by Ele Carpenter, a curator, writer and one of the driving forces behind the Nuclear Culture Research Group.

On amazon USA and UK.

Black Dog Publishing writes: The Nuclear Culture Source Book is a resource and introduction to nuclear culture, one of the most urgent themes within contemporary art and society, charting the ways in which art and philosophy contribute to a cultural understanding of the nuclear. The book brings together contemporary art and ideas investigating the nuclear Anthropocene, nuclear sites and materiality, along with important questions of radiological inheritance, nuclear modernity and the philosophical concept of radiation as a hyperobject.

This book was published at the end of last year. 5 years after the Fukushima disaster. 30 years after Chernobyl. Even Fukushima sounds like a distant memory now but if we start to think in terms of nuclear deep time (where the safety of the storage of radioactive waste underground has to be guaranteed for the next hundreds of thousands of years if not far more), it actually happened less than a micro second ago.


Merilyn Fairskye, Plant Life (Chernobyl) Reactor 4

The Nuclear Culture Source Book contains artworks and essays that attempt to respond to the current nuclear age. This is an age characterized by an environment made radiological by the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents. But also by the long term effects of the fallout from weapon testing and the thorny issue of long-term storage and occasional leaking of nuclear waste repositories. Add to the picture, a vast infrastructure involving mining, energy production, waste transport, etc.

How do we take responsibility for high-level waste that has to be kept safe from earthquakes, climate change, volcanic activity and container corrosion for up to one million years? Is this even possible? Do we risk forgetting this nuclear background when its vast timescale exceeds our own understanding of time? When radiation cannot be perceived directly by our human senses? Will we ever stopped being haunted by a threat that remains invisible, odourless, silent?

This book illustrates the role of art in creating a visual sensory framework that helps us grapple with nuclear culture. It also demonstrates that there are ways to approach, debate and articulate the many political, aesthetical and social issues surrounding a phenomenon that eclipses our standard notions of time, materiality and danger.


Thomson & Craighead, Temporary Index, 2016. Image: Arts Catalyst

The Nuclear Culture Source Book accompanies the exhibition Perpetual Uncertainty at the Bildmuseet in Umea, Sweden, but it offers far more than your usual exhibition catalogue. It presents more artworks than the exhibition does and it contains outstanding essays. I was particularly fascinated by a text in which artist and writer Susan Schuppli so eloquently exposes facts i had never heard about such as the spontaneous nuclear fission of an uranium deposit in Gabon two billion years ago or Sweden’s role in forcing the Soviet Union to officially announce the Chernobyl disaster.

Dark nuclear times have suddenly been brought back to our minds now that there’s an obtuse and raving lunatic in control of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. A book like The Nuclear Culture Source Book is not going to make us feel better about the future of the world but it might at least enable us to face it with a better informed and clearer head. I highly recommend that you browse the publication if you get a chance. It’s only January but i’m already pretty sure that this one is going to be among my favourite books of 2017.

A quick run through some of the works i discovered in the book:


Trevor Paglen, Trinity Cube. Installation view, Don’t Follow the Wind, 2015. Image via elephant mag

Trevor Paglen’s Trinity Cube brings together two key moments in the nuclear age. The Fukushima disaster and the early experiments of nuclear weapons. The outer layer of this jewel-like cube is made of irradiated broken glass collected from inside the Fukushima Exclusion Zone. The inner core of the sculpture is made out of Trinitite, the mineral created on 16 July, 1945 when the U.S. exploded the world’s first atomic bomb in New Mexico, heating the desert’s surface to the point where it sand turned into glass.

The cube can be found inside the Fukushima Exclusion Zone as part of the Don’t Follow the Wind project. The artwork will be viewable by the public when the Exclusion Zone opens again, anytime between 3 and 30,000 years from the present.


Isao Hashimoto, 1945-1998

Isao Hashimoto made a simple but strikingly disturbing time-lapse animation of the 2,053 nuclear explosions on earth between 1945 and 1998, beginning with the Manhattan Project’s “Trinity” test near Los Alamos and concluding with Pakistan’s nuclear tests in May 1998. The video leaves out all tests since 1998.


Jane and Louise Wilson, The Toxic Camera, Konvas Autovat, 2012. Photo: likeyou


Jane and Louise Wilson, The Toxic Camera, 2012

The Toxic Camera is inspired by the film Chernobyl: A Chronicle of Difficult Weeks made by Vladimir Shevchenko in the days immediately following the accident. The film crew was the first in the disaster zone following the meltdown of the power plant on April 26, 1986. They shot continuously for more than 3 months, documenting the disaster’s impact on the local population and the cleanup efforts. Radiation levels were so high that parts of the film were marked with white blotches from radiation. Shevchenko died from radiation exposure before the film was released. As for his 35mm Konvas Avtomat camera, it was so highly radioactive that it had to be buried on the outskirts of Kiev.

The Wilsons’ film explores interconnecting stories from interviews conducted with Chernobyl survivors and with Shevchenko’s colleagues, 25 years after the incident.


Morris&Co fabric, Tudor Rose, 1883, used to upholster British nuclear submarine interiors. Photo: Nuclear Culture

The Morris & Co company’s ‘Strawberry Thief’ fabric was used to upholster British Nuclear Submarines from the early 1960s to the mid-1990s.
It seems that, like many other Victorian manufacturers, Morris & Co produced wallpapers rich in pigments such as locally mined arsenic green. However, due to the action of damp mould, the wallpapers emit poisonous gases which made the occupants of houses ill. William Morris apparently refused to believe that this was the case, and only reluctantly gave up producing such wallpapers.


Taryn Simon, Black Square XVII, 2006–ongoing. Void for artwork. Permanent installation at Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow

In the year 3015, a black square made from vitrified nuclear waste will occupy a now empty space in at Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow. The nuclear waste is made of organic liquids, inorganic liquids, slurries, and chemical dusts from a nuclear plant in Kursk as well as from pharmaceutical and chemical plants in the greater Moscow region. Through a process of vitrification, radioactive waste will be compacted and solidified into a mass resembling polished black glass. This mass is currently stored in a concrete reinforced steel container, within a holding chamber surrounded by clay-rich soil, at the Radon nuclear waste disposal plant in Sergiev Posad, 72 km northeast of Moscow. It will remain there until its radioactive properties have lowered to levels deemed safe for human exposure. Cast within the black square is also a cylindrical steel capsule containing a letter to the future written by Taryn Simon.

The work is part of the Black Square series, a collection of objects, documents, and individuals within a black field that has precisely the same measurements as Kazimir Malevich’s 1915 painting of the same name.


Hilda Hellström, The Materiality of a Natural Disaster (video still), 2012. Image via cfile daily


Hilda Hellström, The Materiality of a Natural Disaster


Hilda Hellstrom, The Materiality of a Natural Disaster

Hilda Hellström’s The Materiality of a Natural Disaster is a set of radioactive food kitchen artifacts made from soil and clay taken from the exclusion zone surrounding the Daiichi nuclear power plants in Fukushima, Japan. The objects are irradiated, but within “allowable” levels. Hellström collected the irradiated soil with Naoto Matsumura, a former rice farmer and the last resident living inside the exclusion zone. The pots are accompanied by a video that documents Naoto Matsumura’s daily routine. He lives without water nor electricity on his land that won’t be farmable for at least thirty years.


Ken + Julia Yonetani, Crystal Palace, 2013. The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations

Crystal Palace is comprised of 31 chandeliers, as many as there are nuclear nations in the world. The size of each chandelier reflects the number of operating nuclear plants in that nation. Antique chandelier frames have been refitted with uranium glass and UV lighting. Once switched on, the UV bulbs cause the glass beads to glow with an eerie green. The title of the work references the grandiose building designed for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, alluding to human ambition, technological development and the costs and consequences that inevitably accompany them.


Suzanne Treister, NATO 2004-ongoing. From the series NATO


Shuji Akagi, Fukushima Traces, 2011-2013. Photo via Osiris

Shuji Akagi’s Fukushima Traces chronicles the city’s decontamination process and life after the tsunami. His visual diary and annotations reveal governmental billboards of encouragement to the population, contaminated soil from playgrounds and sports fields dug up and covered with blue tarpaulin, trees stripped bare to remove contaminated leaves and branches, cracks on the road, etc.

In the book of the project, Akagi writes: “I would like to record as much of what happened within the sphere of my everyday life. No matter how the media would cover the shining city-scape in the glow of recovery, I want to document the lingering scars of my surroundings.”


Brian McGovern Wilson and Robert Williams, Cumbrian Alchemy, 2014

Cumbrian Alchemy, by Brian McGovern Wilson and Robert Williams, explores the connections between the nuclear industry of the Energy Coast in Cumbria and Lancashire and the archaeology and folklore of the region. The performance in the photo above was inspired by Thomas Sebeok‘s proposal in 1984 that an Atomic Priesthood of physicists, anthropologists, semioticians and other experts could be effective in communicating information over vast expanses of time.


smudge studio, Look Only at the Movement (route map), 2012-15


smudge studio, Look Only at the Movement (digital stills), 2012-15

In 2012, Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse from smudge studio followed the routes along which nuclear waste is moved in the American West from sites of waste generation to disposal stations. Equipped with a car-mounted video camera, they documented storage infrastructures and engineered landscapes such as the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where nuclear weapons research is conducted; the former site of a plutonium plant in Colorado; the Department of Energy’s TRANSCOM in Carlsbad, New Mexico, which monitors, 24/7 and via satellite, the transportation of nuclear waste in trucks; the uranium tailings disposal cell at Mexican Hat in Utah and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, America’s only deep geologic repository where nuclear waste is buried 1,250 feet below the surface in a salt dome, etc.

Look Only at the Movement exposes the encounters of two worlds that seem to ignore each other: the travelers on the American Highway and the network of nuclear waste transport, disposal cells, and sites of remediation. It also demonstrates how the movement of nuclear waste through public spaces is (and will long continue to be) a condition of contemporary life, landscape, and infrastructure design. Yet, citizens, architects, and engineers have virtually no models for how to design and maintain infrastructures capable of safely containing nuclear materials for the millions of years required by their potency.

The exhibition Perpetual Uncertainty is at the Bildmuseet in Umea (Sweden) until 16 April 2017.

Included in the exhibition: Inheritance, a precious heirloom made of gold and radioactive stones.

Related stories: High-Speed Horizons. Using sonic booms and nuclear energy to power aviation, Anecdotal radiations, the stories surrounding nuclear armament and testing programs, Relics of the Cold War.

Inheritance, a precious heirloom made of gold and radioactive stones

INHERITANCE-Portrait-small
Erich Berger and Mari Keto, INHERITANCE, 2016

If there’s one exhibition i’m dying to see at the moment, it’s Perpetual Uncertainty / Contemporary Art in the Nuclear Anthropocene at Bildmuseet in Umeå. The show brings together artists who respond to our contemporary ‘nuclear age,’ an age punctuated by disasters such as Chernobyl, Fukushima and their far-reaching fallout, marked by continuous nuclear weapon developments, tests and threats but also by long-term storage of radioactive waste.

One of the works in the Bildmuseet exhibition attempts to make sense of the vast timescales involved in the topic. INHERITANCE, by Erich Berger and Mari Keto, is a set of jewelry artifacts made of gold and other precious metals but also of naturally mined Thorianite and Uraninite. The presence of these radioactive stones renders the accessories practically and symbolically unwearable for deep time, until the radionuclide transmute naturally into a stable and non radioactive isotope of lead.

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Erich Berger and Mari Keto, INHERITANCE, 2016

The jewellery pieces are kept inside a stackable concrete container which contains a time piece modeled after a Fenjaan water clock (one of the first instruments to measure time), as well as all the instruments necessary to measure and record the amount of radiation remaining in the jewellery: an electroscope, a rod with a piece of fur to electro-statically charge the electroscope, a timer for recording the time as well as instructions that detail the rituals to be performed generation after generation until it is safe to wear the jewellery.

With these artefacts comes also an auto-radiography of the jewellery. An auto-radiography is an image produced when the radioactive energy emitted by an object takes a photo of the object itself.

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Photographic plate made in 1903 by Henri Becquerel showing effects of exposure to radioactivity

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Erich Berger and Mari Keto, INHERITANCE (auto-radiography of the jewellery), 2016

Berger had the idea of engaging with this particular topic after a field trip close to his home in Finland, the first country to build a permanent nuclear waste storage facility. The artist was inspecting the area for techno minerals when he discovered native copper in the bedrock. For the researchers working for the Finnish nuclear waste industry, the sample constituted physical evidence that copper is resistant enough as canister material for nuclear waste in Finnish bedrock.

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Erich Berger and Mari Keto, INHERITANCE, 2016

INHERITANCE is part of a broader research that looks into the temporal, spacial and economic dimensions of nuclear processes. Nuclear processes (and waste in particular) are particularly difficult to comprehend. They weigh on our existence but remain invisible to us, as individuals and as a society, and they involve timescales so vast, they defy human understanding.

By transferring the issue into a heirloom that is passed on from generation to generation, and shrouded in precise rituals and caring gestures, Berger and Keto make tangible the challenges of a technology that generates energy, constitutes a potential menace and puts us in debt with future generations.

The artists were kind enough to answer my many questions about their work:

Hi Mari and Erich! What guided the aesthetics of the jewellery. Because accessories quickly look outdated. Did you go for something that would look timeless or did you just followed the current taste in accessories?

You are right, jewellery is like many other everyday cultural objects subject to fashion and styles. So when we discussed the aesthetics if the INHERITANCE jewellery we wanted to find something “timeless” or “classical”. We have been looking through a lot of image material on crown jewellery, family jewellery, archaeological findings or high end fine jewellery labels like Tiffany & Co or Dior. We wanted the jewellery to look precious and desirable, of high value, and it should give confidence in its appearance and its promise to bridge into deep futures.

Conceptually we used the idea of family jewellery. It is a rather conservative concept which exists in many cultures and serves both to form and bind family affiliations but also to distribute wealth and identity into the future. As such, family jewellery can be considered as actual vehicles for personal identity and economy into the future.

This is why we used gold together with the radioactive stones to give it the preciousness in the material but the gold also really nicely contrasts the deep black stones. Also the decision to make a set with necklace earrings and brooch in the same style comes from the family jewellery background.

What makes the jewellery so meaningful / valuable that you want to be in contact with potentially harmful objects for more generations than you can count?

Family jewellery is perfect to inverse the logic of nuclear waste. Family jewellery is a vehicle for family identity and wealth into the future. With nuclear waste we in-debt the future and enjoy the (energetic) wealth in the present. We ask ‘What do we leave behind – what will the future inherit from us?’

Many attempts are made by artists or designers to scale the vastness and inhuman complexities of issues like nuclear waste or climate change to suit human experience. But shouldn’t we rather head in the opposite direction: Art scaled to the scope of the real and not reality down-sampled toward the digestible – a sentence borrowed from Benjamin Bratton. Bratton talks about speculative design but we think this can be easily addressed towards the arts as well.

Also why did you decide use materials that do emit radiation? Why was it important to you that the work wasn’t ‘fake’?

We discussed the use of actual radioactive material a lot but from the very beginning we knew that the story of the work only can unfold if we stay true to the materiality of the subject we wanted to talk about.

We think that if we as artist use materials to tell or evoke a story then it only comes to life if the materials are real and impose their materiality on the viewer, be it now the gold or the radioactivity of the stones. There would be no transcendence of the story without the realisation that one is actually never be able to wear it. But not only the jewellery is really radioactive, also the accessories for measurement are not faked and all is in working condition. It could start its journey into Deep Futures any moment if someone would be interested in taking the work into family care.

Why the need of a dry day to perform the ritual?

Because the electroscope measurements would be distorted when the humidity is too high. Humid air makes the electroscope discharge much faster.

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Erich Berger and Mari Keto, INHERITANCE, 2016

What are the natural radionuclide you used for this work?

The work uses natural crystals of Thorianite (ThO2) from Mogok, Myanmar, THORITE – (Th, U)SiO4 from Behera/Madagascar and Uraninite (UO2) from Shinkolobwe, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Was the museum never worried about exhibiting such a piece?

We all were/are cautious about the radioactivity but took good care and made all necessary precautions during the production. One should not forget that the radioactive materials we use are not illegal as they are naturally occurring. It is more a question of exposure, which is a question of distance and time. It was very important for us, curator Ele Carpenter and the Bildmuseet that the work will be legally exhibited and self evidently will cause no harm to the visitors. Specifically important for us was that the work will not draw attention for the wrong reasons as it would easily overwrite our primary intentions. We had an intense dialogue and process and several radiological assessments to arrive at the conditions under which the work can be exhibited. In our case under a vitrine and at a viewing distance of at least 60 cm, but this was all very exciting and everybody involved wanted it to succeed and was very helpful and cautious. The same counts for the transport of the work.

Thanks Mari and Erich!

The exhibition Perpetual Uncertainty / Contemporary Art in the Nuclear Anthropocene remains open at Bildmuseet in Umeå, Sweden until 16 April 2017. Check out Kunstkritikk for a comprehensive review of the show.

Related project: POLSPRUNG by Erich Berger.